The Gemstone

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by Ginna Parsons // photos by Lindsay Pace

When Chad Houston was a boy and he’d stay with his grandmother in Amory, they’d often go window shopping – at midnight.

“We’d walk around downtown when it was deserted,” he said. “I got to see to see Amory at night. After that, I always envisioned having a small restaurant in downtown Amory. I knew how cool it could be.”

In February 2020, Chad’s dream came true. A friend of his, Michael Freed, was thinking about opening a restaurant in downtown Amory. Freed had the building, but no culinary experience. He pitched the idea of opening a restaurant to Chad.

“I went home and talked to my wife,” Chad said. “Jamie is a fantastic cook, and I’m the only one who ever got to experience it. Whenever she’d make something fantastic at home, I’d say, ‘That’s going on the menu.’ I told her if we don’t do this now, we’ll never do it.”

Freed, an attorney, took care of the paperwork and the legal side of things, and the Houstons started working on the building and the menu.

A month later, COVID-19 had all but shut down Mississippi. The whole country was battling the coronavirus pandemic.

“I thought maybe COVID-19 would just go away,” Chad said.

“We were on spring break and thinking, next week we’ll go back to school,” said Jamie, a teacher. “So we forged ahead with the plan.”

Chad said the couple didn’t really have a choice. At the time, he was a copier repairman, and his hours had been cut in half because no one was working in their offices. Plus, they’d made a commitment to Freed.

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So three months later, in June 2020, the couple opened The Gemstone, a restaurant and bar on Main Street.

“We named it The Gemstone for two reasons,” Chad said. “First, for the majority of its existence, this building had been a jewelry store, dating back to 1918. But also in the 1950s and ‘60s, there was a theater across the street called The Gem. So the two kind of played off each other for a really cool name.”

The first month the restaurant was open, all it offered was take-out food.

“We beta-tested some of our dishes,” Chad said. “We did pre-sales on Facebook. The response was tremendous. We’d sell out in hours. That was actually a better business model than what we have now, but that’s not what we wanted. A dine-in restaurant and bar was always our business model.”

When COVID-19 restrictions were loosened a bit and The Gemstone could have customers seated inside at half-capacity, the Houstons began taking reservations.

“That half-capacity really helped us, too,” Chad said. “It allowed us time to grow and learn what we were doing. It was a blessing for us to have that happen. We opened a sit-down restaurant at a time when restaurants were closing right and left. I take pride in that.”

The couple didn’t really have a menu in mind when they began their venture. They just knew they wanted to offer good food.

“We have a lot of Louisiana dishes on the menu,” Jamie said. “Shrimp and grits is one of our bestsellers. We also have a shrimp po’boy, a crawfish po’boy, crawfish etouffee and grilled Mahi. Sometimes we’ll do carry-out gumbo as a special. The last time we did gumbo, people were lining up in the parking lot at 10 a.m. to get it before it was gone.”

The restaurant also offers a cheeseburger, a yard bird BLT, a veggie burger, grilled chicken skewers, pork medallions and a big salad. Bestselling sides include smashed cheesy garlic cauliflower, mac and cheese, beer-battered fries, stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped asparagus and grilled street corn when it’s in season.

“One dish we recently added is called the Coastal Overload,” Chad said. “It’s a grilled Mahi fillet on a bed of white rice with a crab cake on top and covered in crawfish etouffee. It is a mound of food, but it is fantastic.”

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Because they consider The Gemstone a different sort of gathering place, the Houstons wanted to have a different type of menu — actually two menus. One is for dinner, and the other is for happy hour and after dark.

Dinner is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. That’s where you’ll find shrimp and grits, chicken skewers, crawfish etouffee, pork medallions, grilled fish and the Coastal Overload.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the restaurant is open from 5 to 8 p.m. and only offers the happy hour menu. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the dinner menu stops at 8, and from 8 to 10 p.m., only the after-dark menu is available.

The happy hour/after-dark menu features hand-breaded crab cakes, zucchini fries, Gemstone caviar, hot artichoke and spinach dip, fried mushrooms, fried crab Rangoon cheese sticks, Mississippi egg rolls and Southwest egg rolls, hot wings and buffalo cauliflower bites.

“We wanted quality pub food,” Chad said. “The cheese sticks are the most popular — we’ve made thousands of those. When they’re in season, we do a fried green tomato stacker with smoky pimiento cheese and topped with pepper jelly.”

Most of the recipes the restaurant uses are Jamie’s.

“When someone comes in to help, I can’t write any of the recipes down,” she said. “They’re all in my head. They just have to watch and learn.”

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